BERLIN CENTER - Whenever running backs find their way into the end zone, offensive linemen celebrate as though they themselves score - or so they say.
It makes it a little more special when one of their own gets the opportunity to run the ball, though, as the Western Reserve Blue Devils experienced last season. Early during their second-round playoff win over Danville, guard Matt Mace, who played upback at times last season, received a handoff and delivered some hits up the middle for a 4-yard gain.
The reaction from his teammates was as though he went for paydirt.
"We give him (Mace) the ball one time, he got 4 yards and it was like the greatest thing that's ever happened," center Hunter Powell said of Mace's carry. "It was crazy. I think that's the wildest we've ever been. It was nuts."
While the line will always have that special memory, Powell, Mace and the rest of the line has an even more important job to do this year: to lead a Western Reserve offense that lost the Division VII Offensive Player of the Year at quarterback, leading rusher and second leading receiver.
The offensive line was one of the few areas of the team not really affected by graduation from a team that reached the state semifinals last season. The Blue Devils return four of the five starters in seniors Mace and Powell and juniors T.J. Henry and Jess Bowman.
Coach Andy Hake places special importance on Mace, a 6-foot-3, 316-pound guard, and the 6-4, 352-pound Powell in the running game.
"When we need to run the ball, we're going to go behind them," Hake said. "It's not a magic wand. We're going to run behind them, and they're big, strong guys. We're going to play physical."
That fits Mace and Powell just fine, as they both expressed their joy at run blocking.
Mace himself said one of his fondest memories came while run blocking in last season's 24-14 win over McDonald. On one play toward the end of the game, Mace described how he pummeled a linebacker and pushed him a good distance down the field before driving him to the ground.
"I just love imposing my will on someone, and I'm able to go against them and them not having any control over it," Mace said. "I'm able to impose my will on them and move them however I want to."
That's something each of the four returning linemen can do well, especially considering their size. With Powell and Mace the heaviest of the bunch, three other offensive lineman are listed at more than 250 pounds on the roster.
"I take pride in that we're bigger people because when we hit kids, they know they've been hit by us. It's a different impact," Mace said. "Adding to the size, we're also fast. It's not like we're slow, so that adds to a lot of the impact as well."
The Blue Devils are hoping that impact will lead them back to the promised land of the playoffs and beyond. The offensive linemen and coach certainly hold the unit in high esteem.
"We're like the 300 Spartans," Powell said. "We're the best of the best on the line in our region, anywhere."